Thousands Mourn Guyana's Desmond Hoyte By MICHELLE NURSE, Associated Press - Monday 30 December 2002

GEORGETOWN, Guyana - Thousands of mourners filled the main square in Guyana's capital Monday, paying their final respects to former President Desmond Hoyte, one of the Caribbean's most prominent leaders.

Hoyte, who in recent years served as opposition leader in the South American country, died Dec. 22 at his home of an apparent heart attack. He was 73.

The mourners endured searing heat, shading themselves with umbrellas, hats and handkerchiefs. Many wept as they filed past Hoyte's open casket in the Square of the Revolution under a black and gold tent.

A crowd later filled a courtyard at the Parliament building for a state funeral to honor Hoyte, who was president from 1985-1992 and who some called the "Silver Fox" for his gray hair and political craftiness.

Caribbean Community Secretary-General Edwin Carrington praised Hoyte's efforts to support regional integration. He said Hoyte had urged the community "to move rapidly and resolutely towards the concept of an integrated regional economy."

In a written condolence message, Prime Minister Denzil Douglas of St. Kitts and Nevis said Hoyte showed "courageousness and passion for equality," and said Guyana "has lost a valuable son, whose space cannot be easily filled."

Hoyte was to be buried later at a small cemetery in Georgetown's botanical gardens.

Hugh Desmond Hoyte was born March 4, 1929, in Georgetown. He worked as a teacher in the 1950s at the Boy's Secondary School on the island of Grenada.

A British-trained lawyer, he entered politics in 1968 when he was elected to Parliament. He held several ministerial positions and in 1984, under President Forbes Burnham, became first vice president and prime minister.

He assumed the presidency in 1985 when Burnham died during surgery, and has led the People's National Congress party ever since.

Hoyte was credited with turning around the country's economy in the 1980s after Burnham's socialist policies, which had coincided with economic stagnation. Many businesses shut their doors Monday in a gesture of respect.

Hoyte presided over a political party largely backed by people who, like him, were of African descent. He left the presidency in 1992 when his party lost to the People's Progressive Party, which is largely backed by those of East Indian descent.

The former British colony's population of nearly 700,000 has remained sharply divided in politics along racial lines.

Hoyte is survived by his wife, Joyce. In 1985, shortly before he assumed the presidency, his two teenage daughters and sister-in-law were killed in a car crash in southern Guyana.